Sunday, June 3, 2012

441.9 kms: Falstone-Dam-Wave Chamber-55/02-Belvedere-Robin's Hut-Salmon Squares-Janus Chairs-Viewpoint-Silas Capitalis-Kielder.

There are, the English claim, large numbers of very clever, very amazing, engineers who this country is built upon. Engineering, correct me if I am wrong, is quite an exact science. A millimeter (or the equivalent sub-division of an inch) wrong here and spans of bridges wave at each other as they pass in the middle of the river instead of meeting. But. What is the story with mile marking? When the English post signs to tell you how far something is from something else it is far from an exact science. (Disclaimer: this is all from personal observation and a healthy dose of walking-based cynicism and may all be a load of cobble but it is what I really, truly believe.) My theory: Something stated to be a quarter of a mile away is in fact somewhere between just over an inch and just short of half a mile away. Today's walk, for example, was sign posted every mile. I have no doubt that sign zero and sign eleven were exactly where they were supposed to be (although sign eleven was very close to another sign that indicated sign zero was eleven and three-quarters of a mile away??) The ten posts in between, though, were randomly placed somewhere along their given mile. It has to be true. You would be elated when you high-fived eight-miles-to-go, and then it would take two hours for the seven-miles-to-go post to appear. I challenge the UK road authority to prove me wrong. I'm sure if there was more room on the signs it would read more like this:

Town Centre: Over there behind the pub.

Falstone: Just a bit down that track—it's a nice ride.

Bellingham: Absolutely miles away, why don't you catch the bus to Hexham instead.


The eleven miles were great, even if not evenly spaced. It was possiibly a bit more than eleven seeing as I got to go off the road eight times to see artworks. They were mostly small buildings and all incorporated their environments in interesting and interactive ways. Wave Chamber (all the middle locations in the title are the actual artworks rather than places), for example, involved going into a rock chamber and closing the door. It was pitch dark, but as your eyes adjusted you could start to discern images of the waves from outside moving on the floor of the chamber. It was also built to amplify the sounds of the waves. So inside you experienced more acutely what was happening on the outside.


By the time I got to Kielder I was a little over walking though. It is not meant to have a lot of accommodation so I entered with my breath held. I tried first at the hostel. There were too many cars; there was no one at reception. Someone directed me upstairs for staff; the dining room was inundated with people. The staff advised me that the hostel had been booked out by a family. Dejected, I started to head out to the B&B—the camping ground was apparently also booked out. I was saved from immanent misery when someone followed me down the stairs with a staff member and said that they did have one room the family weren't using and I was welcome to use it. Before I knew it I was also invited to share dinner with them, and basically to invade the last night of their annual family gathering. It was an amazingly fun night. Chicken-me firstly had to come into the dining room and announce myself as the family gate-crasher—I am not good with public speaking. After that it was much smaller groups. What an amazing family. The siblings were each one of thirteen, the oldest, Danny, was seventy-nine and the youngest (the twins, Miriam and Pam, my main saviours) were in their forties. Their father was born in eighteen ninety-four, their mother would have been a hundred this year. The siblings had about twenty-eight children between them and they in turn had about twenty-four. If they had all been here, they wouldn't have fit. I had missed their 'Kielder's Got Talent' by two hours—it would have been priceless. I think I laughed for about five hours. We went to the pub, did the quiz that Allan had brought along. I got suckered into most of Allan's jokes. Ralph, or Arthur (I am questioning what I was hearing now), is a staunch anti-royalist who proclaimed a number of times that he wasn't part of the family. He believed that when the matriarch of the family was due with the fourth child of the family, she sent the other three boys out to 'procure' a pram. They found one outside Buckingham Palace. A beautiful one with a royal emblem on it. They brought it home, but it turned out there was still a baby in it—Ralph/Arthur. Strange that none of the Royals noticed he was missing. I could spend this evening recounting last, but I won't. I am going to join their family via Facebook so anyone who is a friend with me may be able to see some of the antics of the Thompson's from sunny South Shields (no guarantee). I love them! I reckon you would too. And if anyone meets Ben, one of the family, in Oz on a working holiday, please show him great hospitality because the family is owed for that which they gave me.


It is now tomorrow. The wacky guests didn't stop at last night. I ended up staying a day in Kielder—I'm suddenly in the middle of somewhere that is a little diffiicult to get out of with the maps I have and I wasn't able to organise packed lunches and the like because of the whirlwind evening, so those were today's missions. I have been speaking to someone this evening—a walker, an elderly man, quite odd—who is either a spinner of tales or should really reconsider being in the countryside. These are some of the things that have happened to him:

He was wallking out on the open moors, nothing to block vision for three hundred and sixty degrees. His wife was walking just behind him. He glanced back at one stage and she was gone. The heather was waist high. It turned out that something had bitten her and she had instantly collapsed straight on her face. Her legs and arms were swollen beyond normality. He was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and by the time he got back to the car with her at four a.m. he was one great big midge bite.

He was walking on the Pennine. There are sections where enormous stones that look like they used to be houses have been layed over the bog. He was looking at his map instead of the ground and stepped off the stones into the bog. He sank to his neck and still didn't feel the bottom. At the last minute he grabbed out at some vegetation and was able to pull himself back out. He was black from neck to boots. When he arrived at the pub the publican gave him a free beer as long as he promised not to come inside—normally you have to take your boots off at the door, he would have had to take off his body. He was staying with friends. They lined him up against the shed and high-pressure hosed him down. His clothes were washed and dried by being placed around the boiler. In the morning they could stand by themselves.

A bull chased him through a field. He managed to get his pack off, throw it over a six foot fence and scramble after it. The bull just about knocked the fence down to get him but he was long gone.

He is petrified of horses. One day he had to go through a field with a horse in it—no way around. He made his wife go first. She was fine. As soon as he got half way through the field the horse started thundering towards him. He froze, shut his eyes and waited to die. Next thing he felt was a big horse tongue licking his face.

And last, but by no means least, he was sleeping in his car in a forest car park between walks. In the miiddle of the night he could hear tapping on the back of the car. He thought it was robbers. He turned off the car interior light so it wouldn't come on and snuck out and around to the back. He wasn't sure if it was him or the mountain goat that got the biggest fright, but these goats apparently have huge horns and it charged at him. His first instinct was to grab the horns. The goat flipped him and he ended up on the goat's back, riding around, hanging onto it horns. It was now he realised that the only thing he wore to bed that night, Marilyn Monroe style, was his wristwatch.

As I said, story teller, or should he just hide at home and never come out?


This is a blog that is too long. Sorry.


Good night to Kielder, good night to you.


1 comment:

  1. Well sometimes truth is indeed stranger than fiction. I am thinking you should have asked that elderly man what he was on, might be worth getting a couple of Kilo's of it. Sounds like he would make a fantastic Politician/Real Estate Agent/used car salesman.